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The Prime Minister is on the brink of blacklisting more tourist destinations to prevent cases of Covid-19 being imported into the UK. Sources close to the PM said he is “desperate” to avoid a major resurgence of the virus in the UK and will stop at nothing to prevent it.
Senior Conservatives and tourism bosses have warned against tough restrictions being imposed on holidaymakers.
But the virus is on the rise across Europe and there have been flare-ups in Britain.
No 10 insiders Mr Johnson is prepared to do whatever it takes to protect the country from a “catastrophic” second spike.
They said Downing Street has learnt the lessons from the early months of the pandemic and is focused on getting ahead of events.
After managing to navigate through the double-whammy of a health and economic crisis, the PM is insistent he will not do anything to put the country at risk.
Mr Johnson will stick to a tough strategy to contain the disease by restricting travel to destinations with high rates of infections and taking targeted localised action in the UK.
Ministers are expected to hold more talks today to discuss which countries to target next as cases of coronavirus spike across Europe.
Belgium and Luxembourg are top of the list and a resurgence of the disease in Croatia is also a key concern for the government.
Around 600,000 Britons were in Spain when the government gave five hours notice of returning travellers being hit with a 14 day quarantine. It has also advised against all but essential travel to the country.
The changes apply to its popular islands despite them having low rates of Covid-19.
Transport Secretary Grant Shapps, who landed back from Spain last night and will now have to quarantine after being hit by his own travel restrictions, insisted the rule change was the “right thing to do”.
Mr Shapps said the government has to act the moment it gets information and he “can’t therefore rule out other countries having to go into the quarantine as well”.
He said: “I’m very, very sorry and upset for the thousands of Brits who are either away or perhaps even haven’t managed to go away this summer as well to Spain.
“But it’s absolutely essential we acted when we did, it’s why all four nations of the United Kingdom acted together and the figures since have turned out to justify that action.”
Mr Shapps said the government had considered exempting some Spanish islands but experts raised concerns.
“Chris Whitty, the chief medical officer, was very clear with us that he was concerned about the data, we’d seen how the data had come very fast forward in Spain in 20, 48 hours, it had gone up by 75 per cent,” he said.
“It had doubled in just a few days. He was concerned to see what was happening in the islands and that’s why we make it a whole-country approach in these things.”
Medical experts have warned the UK is in a race against time to prevent a second wave and nationwide lockdown.
Prof Jose Vazquez-Boland, chair of infectious diseases at Edinburgh University, said easing restrictions is leading to a “comeback of community transmission”.
“There will be a resurgence of new cases every time social restriction measures are lifted as long as the virus remains in circulation,” he said.
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Prof James Naismith, director of the Oxford-based Rosalind Franklin Institute, said he fears a winter spike “if we fail to check this flare up” and there is only a “short time to get our systems ready to prevent this”.
“With the normal winter illnesses such as coughs, colds and flu as well as greater indoor living, we could then see a return to exponential growth in cases that overwhelms the NHS and requires complete lockdown” he said.
But concerns have been raised about the economic impact of tougher restrictions.
Heathrow Airport called for passenger testing to be introduced swiftly to allow the 14 day quarantine period to be significantly reduced.
Chief executive John Holland-Kaye claimed travellers are being forced to play “quarantine roulette”.
He said: “Our European competitors are racing ahead with passenger testing.”
The airport is “ready to go in two weeks” if the Government allows tests to be used to ease restrictions.
Passengers would be charged around £140 per test.
Ex-minister Crispin Blunt warned imposing blanket measures “quite regardless” of the presence of the virus undermined public support for the government’s approach.
He said the government’s policy had been “muddled” and was “wrong”.
Mr Blunt said tourists returning low risk parts of Spain were unlikely to comply with the restrictions because the government has failed to “carry people” with them.
Former Cabinet minister David Davis said there are better alternatives to widespread quarantine restrictions and backed Heathrow’s call for airport testing.
He said: “On a 14 day holiday there is an 80 per cent chance someone infected will manifest symptoms at the airport.
“If this is the case everyone on the plane should be quarantined. US companies like Cepheid can turnaround a test in 30 minutes.
“Nothing is perfect, you are as likely to catch the virus on the London underground back home as you are on the plane or on holiday.”
Senior Tory Sir Graham Brady said the government should be seeking to “minimise” impact on travel industry as well trying to “maximise people’s freedom to live their lives”
Ex-Tory leader Iain Duncan Smith said the blanket quarantine approach “affects the poorest the most and hits the economy”.
But Culture Secretary Oliver Dowden insisted testing passengers at airports is not a “silver bullet” that would allow restrictions to be eased.
He said: “We are not at the point where there is a viable alternative to the 14-day quarantine.
“There is a real risk here – the virus is spreading around the world, it’s rising rapidly around the world.
“We need to ensure that the measures we’ve taken in the UK – which have been very difficult – to keep this virus under control, do not go to waste because we allow cases to come in from elsewhere.”
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